South Africa

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south_africa_mapPopulation:  52,274,945

HDI ranking: 121/187

HDI score: 0.629 

Since the first truly democratic election in 2000, South Africa has made significant progress toward strengthening local democracies. The country is removing divisions set by apartheid and utilizing the newly organized local governments to move the country forward.

Local governance at a glance

  • The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs is responsible for supporting provinces and local government.
  • The three types of municipality include 6 urban metropolitan municipalities and double-tier rural authorities, 46 first-tier district municipalities, and 231 second-tier local municipalities (Commonwealth, 2011).
  • Traditional leadership is incorporated into South Africa’s constitution, and there are 760 traditional councils active in the country (Commonwealth, 2011).
  • Local governments make use of constituency-based elections in combination with proportional representation (South African Parliament, 2014).

Civil society actors include

  • The Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) is an independent organization dedicated to democracy and social justice. IDASA collaborates with like-minded organizations to implement strategies and workshops regarding sustainable democratic systems.
  • Islandla Institute is a public interest think tank, working to reduce inequality and promote effective and inclusive local governance.

Capacity building institutions

  • The Local Government Sector Education Training Authority works to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the local government.
  • The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) is an autonomous group of municipalities that represents the interests of local governments. A mandate within the constitution recognizes SALGA as the key representative of local government and in partnership with the federal authority. 

Fiscal control

  • Municipalities utilize taxes and service charges to raise the majority of their revenue. Government grants also contribute to the municipalities’ financial allotment. The ‘local government equitable share’ (LGES) transfers national money to municipalities and has grown significantly in the past decade (Commonwealth, 2011).
  • The Africa Budget Project is affiliated with the International Budget Project (IBP) and works with governments and citizens to promote effective budget policies.

Key initiatives for participatory local governance

  • The Municipal Structures Act of 1998 sets guidelines for the committees to enhance local participation.
  • The Municipal Systems Act of 2000 holds the local government responsible for ‘the involvement of the local community and to consult the community about the level, quality, range and impact of municipal services provided by the municipality, either directly or through another service provider’ (Commonwealth, 2012).
  • In 2009, The CoGTA conducted assessments of all 283 municipalities to understand the challenges each area faced and how to best implement strong local governance. Key recommendations include: strengthening the relationship between national/state governments and local government; greater support from the provinces to local governments; municipalities identifying new goals and strategies; and launching a “good citizenship campaign” to promote participation with the local governments (CoGTA, 2009).
  • The Local Government Turnaround Strategy of 2009 is an initiative lead by the CoGTA. It is a five-year plan that works to strengthen local government. 

Challenges for participatory local governance

  • According to the CoGTA, one challenge is the limited responsiveness of municipality leaders. There is poor financial management in many areas. Inequalities persist and disparities exist with geographic development due to remaining legacy of apartheid.

Recent posts on this website about this country:


List of sources (in order of citation)

UN Human Development Index, 2012: “South Africa”

Commonwealth Local Government Forum, 2011: “South Africa”

South African Parliament, 2014: “Elections.”

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), 2009: “Working together, turning the tide in Local Government”